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The age of consent and rape reform in Delaware

July 7th, 2014 No comments
tatnall street

Children playing next to a reputed house of prostitution on Tatnall Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 1910.

In February 1889 a group of women activists presented a petition to the Delaware General Assembly with 10 yards of signatures of Delaware residents. This petition, presented by the Delaware Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, called for the state legislature to raise the age of consent. At that time under Delaware law the age of consent was a shockingly low seven. (W.C.T.U. Petition, Every Evening, February 12, 1889).

Sometimes misunderstood to refer to marriage, the age of consent in question actually had to do with the law of rape, similar to today’s statutory rape laws. Under English common law, which was adopted by Delaware and the other states, rape was defined as ”the carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will.” 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries *210.

In order to convict a man of rape, both force and lack of consent had to be proved, except in the case of a girl under the age of consent who was considered to not know right from wrong and was therefore incapable of consenting. The traditional common law age of consent was 10 or 12. In Delaware the age of consent was 10 until 1871 when it was lowered to seven. 14 Del. Laws 105 (1871) The same law instituted the death penalty for sex with a girl below the age of consent, before that the penalty had been up to 10 years in prison. It was probably the increase in the penalty which caused the age to be lowered, although reticence at the time to even discuss rape, means there is little mention of the change in law in the newspapers of 1871 and no legislative history.

blacklist of states arena

In 1895 Delaware still topped The Arena’s list of states with a low age of consent.

In the 1880s a nationwide campaign began to raise the age of consent. This campaign was led by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Nowadays often dismissed as a group of humorless do-gooders who didn’t want anybody to drink, in the 19th century the WCTU was the largest and most powerful women’s group in the country. Besides their interest in the prohibition of alcohol, they also campaigned against social problems such as prostitution and violence against women, as well as promoting the rights of women to own property and vote. At the 1886 annual meeting of the Delaware WCTU, Delaware Union president Annie H. Martindale told fellow members that “the laws of our own State have drawn upon us the condemnation of shocked and surprised women throughout the country, the age of legal consent being only seven years, the lowest probably of any state in the Union. We must join our sisters in this holy work.”

By 1889 the Delaware WCTU had spurred the Delaware General Assembly to act to reform the age of consent law. The WCTU’s petition asked for the age of consent to be raised to 18. As in most states, the men of the Delaware General Assembly were not willing to go that far. They compromised by not technically raising the age of consent, but by passing a law defining a new crime, making it a misdemeanor to use or procure a female under the age of 15 for the purpose of sexual intercourse or to employ a female under 15 in a house of prostitution. 18 Del. Laws 686 (1889) That age was eventually raised to 18.

Technically, the age of consent in the Delaware rape law remained seven until 1972, when the state completely overhauled its criminal code, replacing the old common law definition of crimes with a modern criminal code. The laws relating to rape and sexual assault have continued to be reformed. As recent controversies over sexual assault on campus have shown the question of consent as a defense to the charge of rape is still a matter for activism and reform today.

Photo sources:

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ncl2004002268/PP/
14 The Arena 418 (1895)

Sources:

Delaware Criminal Code with Commentary. (State of Delaware, 1973)

Leslie K. Dunlap. The Reform of Rape Law and the Problem of White Men: Age-of-Consent Campaigns in the South, 1885-1910, in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History (Martha Hodes ed. 1999)

Jane Larson, ‘Even A Worm Will Turn at Last’: Rape Reform in Late Nineteenth-Century America, 9 Yale J. L. & Human. 1 (1997)

Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (1995)

Aaron M. Powell, et al. The Shame of America—The Age Of Consent Laws in the United States: A Symposium, 11 The Arena 192 (1895)

Law library website will be down for scheduled maintenance

June 12th, 2014 No comments

The law library website will be down for scheduled maintenance of Widener Law’s website, 12:00 AM to 6:00 AM on Friday, June 13th. The website will be unavailable during this time.

Categories: LIC Delaware Campus News Tags:

CALI website will be upgraded this month

June 11th, 2014 No comments

CALI is upgrading their website. Their website and lessons will be unavailable tomorrow, June 12th from 8 AM to 5 PM. For more information please see CALI’s website.

UPDATE: CALI is postponing their update so the site will be working tomorrow. They’ll be doing the update sometime this month, so check their website for updates.

Categories: Databases Delaware Tags:

Library closed Memorial Day weekend

May 22nd, 2014 No comments

The Delaware campus law library will be closed Memorial Day weekend, May 24th through 26th. We will reopen on Tuesday May 27th.

For a complete list of library hours see our webpage.

Categories: LIC Delaware Campus News Tags:

Library closed this weekend for graduation

May 16th, 2014 No comments

The Delaware campus law library will be closed this weekend for graduation. We will reopen on Monday, May 19th. More information on library hours if available on our webpage.

Categories: LIC Delaware Campus News Tags:

Trial by combat in Delaware

May 13th, 2014 No comments

This week’s Game of Thrones episode has put the medieval practice of trial by combat in the spotlight. Gawker and Above the Law both have interesting articles on the practice. Although this Time article claims trial by combat has never happened in the United States, it was requested once in Delaware. In McNatt v. Richards, a 1983 case in Delaware’s Court of Chancery, defendant Freedom Church of Revelation, challenged the plaintiff to trial by combat to the death. Vice Chancellor Maurice A. Hartnett, III was not amused and admonished the defendant that “… challenge of trial by combat to death is not a form of relief this Court, or any court in this country, would or could authorize. Dueling is a crime and defendant is therefore cautioned against such further requests for unlawful relief.”

In case you’re wondering why a pro se defendant would file a “rambling tirade which asserts various preposterous allegations and claims” challenging someone to trial by combat, the answer is of course, tax scam.

Library exam hours start Friday

April 24th, 2014 No comments

Final exams are almost here. Starting on Friday, April 25th, the Delaware campus law library will be open until 2:00 AM.

Our hours for the end of the semester are as follows:

  • Friday, April 25 through Wednesday, May 14           8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
  • Thursday, May 15                                                                   8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
  • Friday, May 16                                                                          8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

CLOSED GRADUATION WEEKEND May 17 & May 18

 

Researching Delaware criminal sentencing

April 3rd, 2014 No comments

Here’s a quick list of sources for researching Delaware criminal sentences.

Title 11, chapter 5 of the Delaware Code defines crimes in Delaware and gives the classification of each crime.

Title 11 chapter 42 of the Delaware Code contains the possible sentences for each category of offense.

Delaware Sentencing Guidelines are in the Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission Benchbook. The Benchbook is updated every year and the current Benchbook can always be found on the Commission’s webpage.

The old razzle dazzle and other licensed amusements

March 31st, 2014 No comments
1915 statutes licenses

Page from the 1915 Delaware Code listing occupations requiring a license.

While doing some research on a more serious topic, I happened to notice an index entry in the 1915 Delaware Code: “Razzle-dazzle keepers, license of.” What exactly was a razzle-dazzle keeper and why did it require a license?

The 1915 Delaware Code includes a list of occupations requiring a license, including some you might still see licensed today, like doctors, lawyers, dentists, and real estate agents, but also some more unusual occupations like “keeping … stallions … for the use of mares” and “practicing jugglery.”

Razzle dazzle at Coney Island

The razzle dazzle at Coney Island in 1896.

It also includes a list of amusements that require a license to operate, which is where the razzle-dazzle comes in. The razzle-dazzle was an early amusement park ride.  There is apparently only one operating razzle-dazzle still left, at a steam museum in England. The old Delaware law gives a snapshot of early 20th century amusement rides, including bicycle and tricycle railways, haunted swings, revolving swings, merry-go-rounds, toboggan slides, switch backs, shoot-the-shoots, ferris wheels, and scenic railways.

Photo credit: Library of Congress

Law library spring break hours

March 4th, 2014 No comments

This week the Delaware campus law library is on shorter hours for Spring Break.

February 28     8 AM to 8 PM
March 1              9 AM to 5 PM
March 2             12 PM to 5 PM
March 3 – 6       8 AM to 8 PM
March 7             8 AM to 6 PM
March 8             9 AM to 5 PM
March 9             12 PM to 10 PM

For more information hours please check the law library website.

Categories: LIC Delaware Campus News Tags: